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Wisconsin teen beats the odds after ski accident, parents have a plea for others

Steve Chamraz, Stephanie Graham

Wisconsin teen beats the odds after ski accident, parents have a plea for others

CREATED Feb. 9, 2012 - UPDATED: Feb. 9, 2012

MILWAUKEE - It's been quite a month for the DeGroot family from the small town of Kaukauna near Green Bay. It's an amazing journey.

13-year-old Jacob DeGroot knows he has a guardian angel..

"I do feel pretty lucky, I think it's a miracle, and I'm really happy that people pray for me and stuff."

Just 4 weeks ago Jacob was lying on a hospital bed--after he crashed into a tree during a school ski trip to Nordic Mountain near Appleton. His mom Patti says she had a funny feeling when she dropped him off at the bus before the trip.

"I took his face in my hands and I'm like, 'Jacob, be careful, don't get hurt', and he's like 'I'll be fine,' he ran off," Patti recalls.

Jacob is a good skier, and Patti knows he doesn't wear a helmet.

"You know, none of the kids wear helmets when they ski, it's just something you just don't do," she explains.

Hours later, she got the call every parent dreads. "I heard Jacob had an accident on the hill, and the ski patrol is bringing him down."

Jacob was life-flighted to Theda Clark, the nearest trauma center, in Neenah. Neurosurgeon Dr. Karl Greene knew he had no time to lose.

"I can remember running down the hallway, and the nurse manager of the hallway says I said something like I'm getting too old for this, cuz I literally sprinted." Dr. Greene recalls.

Meanwhile, Patti and her husband Lloyd were keeping the faith in the waiting room.

"The rosary, I pray it every day... I just kept saying Jesus I trust in you," Patti remembers.

Neurosurgeon Karl Greene made the quick decision to remove a part of Jacob's skull to relieve the swelling of his brain.

"He saved our son's life," Patti says.

He husband Lloyd adds, "He said we have less than 5 min, if we don't operate on him right away we're gonna lose him."

Jacob was then life-flighted to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin here in Milwaukee. Dr Greene admits, "That's kind of a different procedure for me--I don't like operating on people and just giving them away...but quite frankly I think that was the best thing for him."

Local doctors picked up where Dr. Greene left off. Jacob is recovering faster than anyone could imagine! Now... the family wants to help others like them.

"We were one of the lucky ones, we were lucky, cuz he could have been dead, and probably should have been dead," Lloyd says.

Patti adds, "I said to Jacob, you're a miracle, and God has a plan for you... and if it's just to get the message out to wear your helmet, even if it's not cool when you're skiing."

Child safety advocates like Lisa Klindt-Simpson at Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin agree. She explains, "On ski hills, wearing a helmet can help prevent injury up to 50%. Those are some overwhelming stats, to keep our kids safe."

For now, Jacob wears a special helmet to protect his brain, and says he'll never ski without a helmet again.

"At first I thought, wow, they're really stupid and dumb, but now I think they're really important, obviously," Jacob warns.

Jacob lost some hearing in his left ear and has some issues with his speech, but overall, he's expected to make a full recovery. It's all thanks to gutsy doctors, and of the support of family, faith, and friends--who are praying for him and sending letters and cards of support.

"I can't even explain the words to use to witness a miracle, that's what this is, a miracle," Patti says.

There are no laws on the books here in Wisconsin for skiers or snowboarders. Ski hills can make rules about the use of helmets.

As for Jacob, he has a long road ahead. He's going for regular check-ups, and doctors are planning to put the piece of skull back on his brain in mid-March.